Focus now on abduction

Search crews and dogs continued to comb the streets of McCleary and nearby woods Wednesday looking for 10-year-old Lindsey Baum, but authorities have started to shift toward an abduction investigation as the hunt entered its sixth day.

“We are starting to look at this as more of a criminal investigation,” Grays Harbor Undersheriff Rick Scott said. “The possibility that someone has facilitated her disappearance is becoming greater as the hours tick on.”

Baum disappeared late Friday while walking home from a friend’s house. No evidence of her whereabouts has turned up despite confirmed sightings of her just blocks from home shortly after 9 p.m.

Scott said the large search effort from the weekend has been scaled down from dozens spread throughout the surrounding areas to a group of about 20 specialized searchers targeting specific areas.

“We’ve found no evidence of her being here,” he said. “We’ve found no evidence of her disappearance.”

Local authorities, with support from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have stepped up inquiries into people that may have known Baum or lived nearby.

Ron Twersky, assistant special agent in charge from the Seattle FBI field office, said people should report strange behavior or “just anything that doesn’t seem right.”

“The bottom line is we have a missing girl,” Twersky told reporters Wednesday, emphasizing investigators are examining all leads.

Scott said people should watch for any unusual social behavior, ranging from increased alcohol use and smoking to anyone who suddenly wants to leave the area or sell their car. McCleary residents should report any suspicions to authorities.

“They may have an association with someone who knows something,” he said, “so if they suspect that, please be the person who has the courage to come forward.”

Scott said that from the beginning, investigators have explored the possibility of family members or friends being involved. Baum’s mother and the stepfather of the young girl Baum had been visiting just before she disappeared have both taken voluntary polygraph tests to aid the investigation.

“They asked to be polygraphed so that we would be comfortable with what we were being told and we could move on to other things,” Scott said. “They did not want us to be wasting valuable time.”

Scott said he was “comfortable” with their answers.

Throughout the search, investigators have spoken with Baum’s father, who lives in Tennessee, Scott said. The father has now booked a flight to Washington for this weekend.

Scott said authorities have run into several dead ends with almost no signs of the 4-foot-9, brown-haired girl, who was last spotted wearing a blue pullover shirt and blue jeans.

“I don’t know anything more than I knew Saturday afternoon,” he said, “but I’m not willing to admit that I know anything less.”

Scott said bloodhounds traced the route Lindsey took early on from the friend’s house to her own home, but didn’t find any scent. And in places where Lindsey once played — parks and by the creek — Lindsey’s scent has been vanishing.

The loss of scent could be a combination of factors — the heat on the sidewalk could have dissipated it for instance, he said.

Scott said a second person came forward Tuesday with a confirmed sighting of Baum from Friday night in the same area along Maple Street near Fifth Street.

Twersky said the FBI has more than a dozen agents in McCleary assisting with the investigation, including specialists from the regional Child Abduction Rapid Deployment team. Behavioral profilers have also offered input on any potential kidnappers.

“Because this is a missing child, we’ll take any advice we can,” he said.

Twersky refused to speculate on any statistics or chances of locating the girl. He again asked people to report any suspicious behavior, but warned against starting a “witch hunt.”

Few new details were available this morning. Sheriff Mike Whelan and Scott spoke on the “Live at Nine” radio show on KXRO early today in further attempts to get information out to surrounding communities.

“It’s more likely at this point that she’s been abducted than anything else,” Whelan said on the show. “There are so many variables, so many things that might have happened to this child. We really, at this point, don’t know if she went willingly or unwillingly.”

After five days of searching under a hot sun, the group of volunteers and officers was noticeably smaller Wednesday afternoon as they continued to rally at the command center outside McCleary City Hall.

Search dogs rested in the shade. Smaller teams came and went. No planes flew overhead.

Scott said the search would have to continue to expand beyond the city limits, targeting logging roads or other remote areas farther afield. But he vowed it would go on as long as necessary.

“We’re going to bring Lindsey home,” he said. “We will find her. If I have to knock on every door in Grays Harbor County to do that, I will.”

No comments: